Learn from Your Losses

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Lawn & Landscape
September 2017
By Marty Grunder

This past spring I got thrown for a bit of a loop when the head of my maintenance division informed me we had lost the account of one of our longtime clients. It was a blow to our company financially and, frankly, it was a blow to me personally. No one likes to lose out on business, but when you’re the CEO and it’s your name on the company, it can feel like a real punch to the gut.

But the truth is we all lose clients at one time or another. If you’re in business, it’s inevitable. It can also be a real opportunity, if you choose make it so. Here’s how:

Meet with Your Client in Person

Earlier in my career, when I was young and brash, I would learn I was losing a client and then write them off immediately. I would blame them – they didn’t know anything about landscaping, they made ridiculous demands, they were just plain wrong. I let my ego get the best of me. Now I try to understand why they’re letting us go and see what we can do to convince them to give us another try.

In this instance, I learned our client – we’ll call him Joe – had found another company to do his spring clean-up at a fraction of the cost. I knew the company Joe had chosen and the quality of the work they do. I stressed to him all the ways we were better but he said, “Marty, it’s just not worth it to me anymore.”

Now, we cost more because we deliver more; that’s fundamental to our business model, and we won’t cut corners to compete on price. But clearly we need to do a better job educating our clients about the value we deliver and why it should matter to them. That’s an important lesson I learned from Joe, and one I’ll be thinking a lot about in the coming months.

Keep the Door Open

Just because you lose a client’s business doesn’t mean you have to lose the relationship too. Be gracious in defeat. After meeting with Joe, I sent him a handwritten note thanking him for his business over the years and letting him know we’d love to work with him again if he ever needed us in the future. I’ll continue to check in with him from time to time. Maybe Joe will grow disgruntled with the service our competitor provides and come back to us; maybe he won’t. Either way, we parted on a friendly, professional note and it’s those kinds of small interactions that build your company’s reputation over time.

Do a Postmortem Analysis with Your Team

Ask your crews why they think you lost a client. Sometimes you find out there was a blip in service that could have been avoided. Sometimes you discover the client was simply impossible to please. When I discussed Joe with my team, we realized the quality of care we delivered to his property suffered a bit due to the learning curve that comes with new hires. Now we’ve shifted some team members around to strike a better balance between experience levels and ensure this doesn’t happen again.

We realized too that there’s a tendency to grow complacent with longtime clients and to think that doing what you’ve always done is enough without taking a step back to think about what you might do differently and how. Are you still delivering service that’s as good now as the first time? Are there systems you need to rethink and retool? Are you still paying as much attention to exceeding the expectations of your old clients as you are to winning over new ones? My team and I are now reviewing all our longtime accounts to ensure we’re doing all we can to retain them.

The next time you lose a client, see it for the learning opportunity it is. And then get back out there.